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by Monica Brandies


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From Dull to Dynamic

What would you do with a corner lot sloping downhill with a few oaks on the side and in the back? Since the corner is close, I've watched several homeowners work hard to bring a sense of design to the property. In the last five years, Leslie Truschel and Dean Eychner have succeeded.

Leslie Truschel and Dean Eychner are very fond of this statue they call Bob. Note the butterflies on the tree trunk.

Two teachers, she at Mann Middle School and he at Hillsborough High School, they work mostly on Saturday afternoons, almost every Saturday afternoon. And since he is a football coach, often times he doesn't even have that day off. But teachers are very hard working and resourceful people.

Truschel has been a gardener and a Floridian all her life. "It started when I was little," she says. "If we did something wrong, my dad would send us out to pull 100 weeds. That squelched some of my siblings, but it made my brother and me gardeners."

Eychner grew up on a farm in central New York and mowed an acre and a half of grass there. "It was a long time before we got a riding mower and a big day when we did," he says.

Now he mows the grass, with a riding mower, except when he can't be home. Then Truschel does it happily.

"I like grass. It looks stately," she says. "I also like the jungle look." Everyone has a different idea of what that means, but this garden combines tropical lushness with wide areas of turf for a truly stately effect. The excellent use of graceful ornamental grasses also adds to the feeling. But probably most amazing of all is the fact that this entire yard of almost half an acre is visible from one or the other of the streets it borders and every inch of it is always very neat.

They maintain all this mostly with about three hours on Saturday afternoon working together. On Sundays Leslie helps with her mother's garden. She doesn't mind working in the heat at all, but she keeps her bottle of water handy. "It's been fun doing this, watching it evolve little by little," she says.

The front of the house has always looked nice, but little by little special touches have added interest and color. Petra crotons, with the wide leaves that thrive in sun or shade, give constant bright color, while ornamental grasses give a graceful feeling. Frolicking frogs add fun to the scene.

A cow and a pig graze in the front garden and never run away.

In fact, little by little, quiet sculptured creatures have popped up all over the garden: an orchestra of frogs plays under a pygmy date palm or Phoenix roebelenii near the corner. In one front garden a cow and a pig graze among the variegated gingers and red ti plants beneath an oak tree. These were only upstaged by the great many blue and white lilies of the Nile that bloomed there for the first few months of summer.

Across the driveway, butterflies flutter beside the mailbox and big ants that don't bite make a line with the leader crawling up the trunk of a Drake elm. Leslie finds many of these treasures in a magazine called Collections.

Down the street side of the house they have replaced a line of oleanders with a row of plumbagos. "I got tired of fighting the caterpillars," says Truschel. "We had to get someone to dig them out, but it was worth it." A wide sward of grass between the cascading blue flowers and the street adds more of that stately look. The sign announcing their neighborhood sits in the back corner of their lot, so Leslie planted the back of it with more plumbago, yellow allamanda, and a fountain of firecracker plant. The sign looks better from the back than from the front.

A row of plumbago

On the other side a large area of roses and many other flowering and foliage plants flourish between the house and a cozy sitting area with tiki lights in back and fire burner in front. Wind chimes add music, and their favorite statue, Bob, peeks out between clumps of red fountain grass.

At the foot of the hill is another peaceful looking garden where a mulberry tree is laden with edible berries in the spring and yellow ixora and allamanda give summer color. There is a bit of easement land at the end of the property where native yellow cannas have bloomed beautifully for years.

"Dean likes to go buy plants and help me place them," Leslie says. "We spend a lot at Kerby's." They have automatic sprinklers that they use manually in the summer, only as needed.